Automobiles are vehicles that use an engine to propel themselves from one location to another. They can be powered by gasoline, diesel fuel, liquefied petroleum gas (LPG), electric motors or other types of engines. The first automobiles were built in the late 1860s. Siegfried Marcus, a German working in Vienna developed the idea of using a two-stroke internal combustion engine to power a vehicle. He built a crude model with no seats, steering or brakes that was capable of moving under its own power. He later built a second vehicle that was fitted with these features and used a four-stroke internal combustion engine of his own design. Karl Benz is often credited with inventing the modern automobile but many other inventors and engineers contributed to its development.
When the automobile became affordable and easy to operate, it served a long-standing predilection in American culture toward individual freedom of movement and action. It also fueled a desire for people to live away from urban areas and establish suburban areas where each family could have its own house surrounded by green grass lawns. This era of the annual restyled road cruiser came to an end with the imposition of government standards for automotive safety and economy; escalating air pollution, energy consumption and gasoline prices; and the penetration of Japanese fuel-efficient, functionally designed, well-built small cars into the market.
Today, it is inconceivable – and highly inconvenient – to live without access to an automobile. It is the primary means of transport for a large segment of the world’s population, which drives more than three trillion kilometers every year on average.